Ladyfest Invades the Valley

Western Mass. is about to be overrun by a teeming throng of women wielding guitars and drums, ready to rock. They’ll be joined by all sort of vendors hawking their wares and services—everything from vegan cupcakes to chest binders—and folks leading workshops and seminars on specialized topics ranging from circuit bending to comic book superheroines.

Ladyfest Easthampton takes place over three action-packed days: at Smith College in Northampton on April 15, and Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton April 16 and 17. The event is a revival of sorts: Flywheel hosted a similar fete a decade ago August. The weekend also marks the one-year anniversary of Flywheel’s opening in its new home on Main Street.

This year’s Ladyfest coalesced when a few Flywheel volunteers—Erika Elizabeth, Meghan Minior and Tessa Simons—all realized they had similar ideas for creating an event that would focus on all-female and female-fronted bands. The crew determined that placing the event under the Ladyfest umbrella seemed the best way to join forces with a long-running and like-minded series that has been taking place around the globe.

The more the trio discussed its plans, the more interest it generated in Flywheel folks like Chris Dooley, Lei Fay, Jeremy Smith, Erin Sullivan and intern Jeremy Cone. It also drew in energetic non-Flywheelers like Bunny’s A Swine’s Candace Clement, Smith student and WOZQ DJ Grace Miceli and others.

Jeremy Smith, one of the driving forces behind Flywheel and Easthampton’s original Ladyfest, recalls that 2001’s original impetus was the inaugural Ladyfest in Olympia, Wash.

“People had approached Flywheel to put on a Ladyfest East here, then decided to move it to Boston,” Smith says. “Since we had already started working on it, we decided to have one of our own and called it Ladyfest Easthampton.”

That iteration had workshops, vendors and performers of all stripes. Ironically, the musical portion of that Ladyfest was held primarily at old Easthampton Town Hall’s upstairs ballroom, back when the city used to rent it out and long before Flywheel ever imagined that they would one day be tenants there.

2001’s festival featured beloved artists like Tizzy and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. One of the acts that Smith remembers most fondly from that year was Selene Colburn. “[She] performed a modern dance piece that dealt with her love of the music of The Rolling Stones, while hating the misogyny in many of their lyrics,” says Smith.

This time around, the jamboree includes some of the best indie bands from the region and beyond: Talk Normal from New York City; US Girls and Trophy Wife from Philadelphia; Shepherdess and Banditas from Boston; and a showcase of “all-lady Valley bands” featuring The Feel, Who’da Funk It, Joy Conz and Horrible Appetite.

The organizers say they certainly could have accepted more artists, as the response to the event was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

“The response has been amazing,” Elizabeth says. “We’ve had more requests from bands wanting to play Ladyfest than we could accommodate in just three days of events. We’ve had people from all over the country submit art for our Portraits of Amazing Ladies art show, and participants have been spreading the word in their own cities, like Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New York City. We even heard that some ladies in Boston who will be performing and doing workshops at Ladyfest Easthampton are planning their own Ladyfest for the fall.”

Just as important as the musicians and visual artists are the festival’s workshops and vendors.

“Our intention with Ladyfest is to not only emphasize women who are actively involved in the independent art and music communities, but also provide a space for independent, DIY ventures in general,” explains Elizabeth. “We’ll have tables from groups and individuals who bake vegan cupcakes, run farm share collectives, make chest binders for the transgender/queer community and knit hats, and workshops on how to put out your own zine or record, how to get your writing published, learning how to circuit bend, a lecture about superheroines in the comic book world.”

Elizabeth and her co-organizers stress that it’s imperative to keep in mind that DIY and feminism are community-minded movements that encompass a wide array of disciplines and endeavors. She says that a woman starting her own independent business or making her own zine is just as important to Ladyfest as a woman playing in a band.

“There’s so many incredible ladies in this area and beyond doing really creative, unique things,” she points out, “which is why having a space like Ladyfest to showcase those ventures is so necessary.”

Elizabeth says the Valley is the perfect home for this type of event, as there exists a long, proud tradition of “DIY-mindedness” here, with scores of bands, record labels, zines and artists putting down roots and thriving.

“Western Mass. is a particularly fertile place for women involved in these activities, with two all-women colleges in the area and a generally progressive attitude toward feminism and women that isn’t the norm in lots of other places,” she says. “When we were brainstorming bands and musicians that we wanted to ask to play Ladyfest, we came up with a huge list of possibilities, which is a testament to how many incredible female-fronted and all-female acts there are out there right now.”

The organizers’ wish list included bands from locales like England, Costa Rica and France in all types of genres and subgenres: indie-pop, hardcore, post-punk, solo acoustic, improvisational noise.

“Some of the most talked-about independent musicians right now are women—Marnie Stern, Tune-Yards and Wild Flag, just to name a few—and it’s definitely an exciting time to be organizing an event that showcases how strong that community is at the moment.”

The Ladyfest crew desires to make it clear that the event, which they hope to curate annually, is indeed open to everyone.

“We’ve had incredible support from people all across the gender spectrum,” says Elizabeth. “We hope that even though the focus is on women and other people who might fall outside the dominant mainstream—the trans community, gender-queer, GLBTQ folks—it’s also just a really awesome event for anyone interested in supporting the DIY community in Western Mass. and beyond.”

Ladyfest Easthampton coincides with the one-year anniversary of Flywheel’s opening of its more expansive space on Main Street. For the volunteer-run collective, it’s a time for celebration and reflection.

“Our success and support in the new building has exceeded my expectations,” says Smith. “We put almost three years of sweat equity, as well as real equity, into the space and are gratified by everyone’s continued support: volunteers, bands and our audiences.

“We look forward to many years in our new home.”

For more info, tickets and a complete lineup of events, visit http://ladyfesteasthampton.com.

Author: Matthew Dube

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